In theory, the Samsung LN46C650—a 46-inch LCD-TV with a 120Hz refresh rate—should not outperform sets equipped with LED backlights and faster refresh rates. But in our juried image-quality tests, the LN46C650 did just that, earning the highest overall scores in a test group of six 46- and 47-inch HDTVs. Add to that its strong lineup of Web features (Yahoo Widgets, Netflix and Blockbuster on demand, Vudu, and many more) and customization options, its attractive price (around $1100 as of October 10, 2010), and its handsome design, and the LN46C650 easily rises to the top among value-priced HDTVs.
The LN46C650 managed to earn higher marks for motion handling than did the 47-inch LG Infinia 47LE8500, a set with LED backlighting and a 240Hz refresh rate. Judges also rated the Samsung HDTV’s handling of brightness and contrast as very good overall. But the set’s scores weren’t uniformly excellent: It stumbled (versus the competition) in our Blu-ray movie tests, introducing an unusual movement artifact in The Dark Knight (a window in a background building seemed to disappear) and delivering oversaturated skin tones (judges said that people in some scenes looked sunburned). Still, the LN46C650’s overall scores were no worse than good, on average, for any attribute.
The LN46C650 boasts the good looks common to all Samsung Series 6 flat-screen TVs. Characteristic features include a thin black bezel and a flat surface that extends beyond the set to terminate in a thin transparent edge with a small dip in the bottom center, in front of the swiveling pedestal. (LG’s Infinia series uses a similar design.) The LN46C650 provides an adequate (but not generous) number of connections: four HDMI ports (three in the back, and one on the right-hand edge); two component video ports, one composite video port, two USB ports (on the side, for playing media), a PC input, an ethernet port, analog and optical digital audio-out ports, and an Ex-Link port for service use. Samsung sells an optional USB Wi-Fi dongle if you can’t hook your set up through the ethernet port.
Firing up the set for the first time (with the TV input active) initiates a standard first-time use wizard (Samsung calls it Plug & Play) for choosing language, home or demo mode, and an antenna or cable service hookup, as well as for scanning for channels and setting the clock.
After that, you can start using the well-designed remote to tinker with settings. The remote is shorter than many others, and is comfortable to hold, with a button for toggling a backlight for the reasonably large keys. Special keys (aside from the usual ones for channel and volume control, input selection, onscreen menu access, and navigation control) include a Tools key that acts as a Quick Menu key to bring up frequently accessed controls, a Content key for accessing different available content (such a list of channels, a media play menu, and Internet sites and services); and dedicated keys for some of the content—Internet, Media Play, Yahoo Widgets, and channels you’ve designated as favorites. Player controls at the bottom of the remote let you operate external devices that support Samsung’s Anynet+ implementation of HDMI-CEC technology, which permits a single remote to control multiple devices.
Samsung’s on-screen menus remain among the most elegant we’ve seen, with icons for major categories (channels, pictures, and the like) in a vertical row on the left side of the screen, with labels that pop up in sideways type and menu items that appear on the right as you scroll.
You get only four preset modes for the picture (dynamic, standard, natural and movie), but tweakers will delight in the abundant advanced controls. One example: White balance, which on most sets is a one-point adjustment, can adjust colors in ten point intervals (though the manual notes that this works only when the picture mode is set to Movie and you’re viewing content through an HDMI or component hookup). Another example: A Flesh Tone feature focuses on making skin look pink. Samsung also provides a couple of patterns for use in adjusting image settings that impact colors or shades of gray.
Other noteworthy controls: The channel scanner can clear channels with scrambled content; the audio section includes an Amplify setting for people who are hard of hearing; a BD Wise setting lets you adjust components to achieve the best audio and video quality for Blu-Ray content; and a Game Mode promises to speed up image processing and make other adjustments to enhance gaming.
Samsung’s Internet features are plentiful and nicely presented: When you press the Internet key while watching a video source, the image appears in the upper left corner of the screen along with icons for various sites and services that the set supports. These include Rovi TV listings, Netflix, Vudu, Yahoo Widgets, and (gathered separately under the heading of Samsung Apps) a slew of popular sites and services such as CinemaNow, Facebook, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and Picasa, plus a handful of simple games such as Sudoku. The Netflix interface does not support on-screen browsing of content not already in your on-demand queue, however.
One useful thing the LN46C650 does is give you the ability to update the set’s firmware over the Internet, which is far easier than having to download it to a PC, transfer it to a USB drive, plug the drive into the set, and then initiate the update via the remote.
The media player features on this set go well beyond the usual simple controls that most HDTVs provide. For instance, the set supports media on any DLNA-compliant media server on your network. When playing music from any source, the set retrieves and displays album cover art. You can choose from several background colors for viewing thumbnails of your photos, and you can zoom in on them (up to 4X). Samsung also provides a tool for sorting photos by different criteria (date taken, number, and others).
The LN46C650’s audio quality, especially its surround-sound simulation, was very good in our tests. I heard more bass than usual in the Phantom of the Opera on Blu-ray, but in other respects the audio was very satisfying and fairly loud when turned up all the way.
Sets based on traditional LCDs typically consume more power than their LED-backlit counterparts, and the LN46C650 was no exception. In our tests it consumed 102 watts per hour when on, and 0.2 watt per hour when powered down but still plugged in; LED sets in the same test group topped out at 75 watts per hour. However, Samsung says that the set exceeds minimum Energy Star 4.0 efficiency standards by up to 40 percent—and of course, this model gobbles a lot less energy than a comparable plasma-based HDTV.
Samsung’s 62-page printed manual is thorough and well illustrated, and you also get a one-sheet quick-setup guide that’s a tad small but does the job. The documents are available online, too.
In short, Samsung isn’t resting on its laurels as HDTV technology continues to mature. For its price, the LN46C650 delivers just about everything you’d want in a modern, connected TV, and does it in great style.
[For details on our testing method, and a description of what our lab results mean, read “How we test HDTVs”.]